Souths, Tigers circle Bulldogs young gun Okunbor

South Sydney and Wests Tigers have emerged as clubs interested in signing Jayden Okunbor if Canterbury is unable to come to terms with the rookie sensation.

Okunbor has made an immediate impact since making his NRL debut against the Tigers in round three, clocking up a record 504 running metres in just two games. No other player has carried the football so far so early in their career.

Jayden Okunbor is making a big impression.

The 22-year-old is off contract at the end of the season and the Bulldogs have begun negotiations to extend his stay at Belmore. However, Okunbor’s form has piqued the interest of Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett and Tigers counterpart Michael Maguire as he prepares to make a call on his future.

Canterbury remains in the box seat given he is a local junior and his mother, Donna, is currently working in the club’s front office. However, given the huge cloud over the future of Greg Inglis, Souths may need to bolster their backline, while several members of the Tigers three-quarter line are also off contract.

“My manager is sorting that stuff out,” Okunbor said. “He just told me to focus on my footy and it will all work itself out.

I’d like to stay here. I’ve been here since I was 13 and call this place home.

“I’d like to stay here. I’ve been here since I was 13 and call this place home.

“That’s my main goal, to stay here.”

Footy fans got their first glimpse of Okunbor well before his first-grade debut against the Tigers. The dreadlocked giant appeared on The Footy Show four years ago in a kick-for-cash segment that netted him $10,000.

“It was announced that I would be kicking and then the next segment was Beau Ryan retiring,” Okunbor recalled.

Running man: Jayden Okunbor goes over the top of Melbourne’s Jahrome Hughes in last Sunday’s game.Credit:NRL Photos

“That was a bit hard because it was a sad moment and me and my mates were just laughing our heads off [in the background].”

After slotting the ball between the uprights, Okunbor donated $1000 to Curtis Landers, the footballer who broke his neck in a tackle gone wrong. Not that the rest of the winnings lasted long.

“I had a bit of a disregard for money,” he chuckled.

“I have nothing left to show for it. I bought shoes, just decided to buy all my mates heaps of food. I don’t regret anything I’ve done but I could have been smarter with it then.”

The next payday is likely to be significantly bigger. The Bulldogs have indicated they want to go back to being a development club and Okunbor is one of the few locals to rise to the top grade.

“I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel it means a lot more to me,” he said.

“I’ve grown up here. Jacko [Josh Jackson] was here when I was 16 and I used to watch him, he was my idol.

“To be able to run out with him now is pretty cool. All of my family is super proud of me, they saw me play under 15s, 16s, 18s and 20s here.

“They are really happy for me.”

Donna Okunbor has long been active in the local league community. She was the club secretary at her son’s junior club, Milperra Colts, and was nominated as the NRL’s volunteer of the year. She has just started working at the Canterbury junior league.

“We walked past each other at lunch the other day, that’s pretty cool,” Okunbor said.

“I go and talk to her every day after I finish training. I pop in and say hello.

“She’s loving it, really enjoying it.”

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